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lution against sin. For no man can pray sincerely against sin, while he is wilfully and voluntarily indulging himself in it. It is contradictory and impossible, equally under the law as under the Gospel, equally under one dispensation as another, under the law as under the Gospel. Can we wonder that nothing comes of such prayers? But if we truly withstand our sins, let them have been what they will, aid, and help, and mercy may be asked for. Indeed they will be asked for, and sought with earnest strivings and contentions of the spirit in prayer. In every heart, touched as the Psalmist's was with the perception of sin, feelings will produce prayers : and, blessed be God, we have in Christ the best assurance that the thing asked, so asked, will be obtained.
TO THINK LESS OF OUR VIRTUES, AND MORE OF
PSALM LI. 3.
My sin is ever before me.
There is a propensity in the human mind, very general and very natural, yet at the same time, unfavourable in a high degree to the Christian character; which is, that, when we look back upon our lives, our recollection dwells too much upon our virtues; our sins are not, as they ought to be, before us; we think too much of our good qualities, or good actions, too little of our crimes, our corruptions, our fallings off and declension from God's laws, our defects, and weaknesses. These we sink and overlook, in meditating upon our good properties. This, I allow, is natural ; because, undoubtedly, it is more agreeable to have our minds occupied with the cheering retrospect of virtuous deeds, than with the bitter, humiliating remembrance of sins and follies. But, because it is natural, it does not follow that it is good. It may be the bias and inclination of our minds; and yet neither right, nor safe. When I say that it is wrong, I mean, that it is not the true Christian disposition: and when I say that it is dangerous, I have a view to its effects upon our salvation.
I say, that it is not the true Christian disposition : for, first, how does it accord with what we read in the Christian Scriptures, whether we consider the precepts, which are found there, applicable to the subject, or the conduct and example of Christian characters ?
Now, one precept, and that of Christ himself, you find to be this : “ Ye, when ye shall have done all those things, which are commanded yon, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.” Luke xvii. 10. It is evident, that this strong admonition was intended, by our Saviour, to check in his disciples an overweening opinion of their own merit. It is a very remarkable passage. I think none throughout the New Testament more so. And the intention, with which the words were spoken, was evidently to check and repel that opinion of merit, which is sure to arise from the habit of fixing our contemplation so much upon our good qualities, and so little upon our bad ones.
Yet this habit is natural, and was never prohibited by any teacher, except by our Saviour. With him it was a great fault, by reason of its inconsistency with the favourite principle of his religion, humility. I call humility not only a duty, but a principle. Humble-mindedness is a Christian principle, if there be one ; above all, humble-mindedness towards God. The servants, to whom our Lord's expression refers, were to be humble-minded, we may presume, towards one another ; but towards their Lord, the only answer, the only thought, the only sentiment, was to be,“ We are unprofitable servants.” And who were they, that were instructed by our Lord to bear constantly this reflection about with them? Were they sinners, distinctively so called ? Were they grievous, or notorious sinners ? Nay, the very contrary ; they were persons, had done all those things that were commanded them!"
This is precisely the description which our Lord gives us of the persons to whom his lesson was directed. Therefore you see, that an opinion of merit is discouraged, even in those who had the best pretensions to entertain it; if any pretensions were good. But an opinion of merit, an overweening opinion of merit, is sure to grow up in the heart, whenever we accustom ourselves to think much of our virtues, and little of our vices. It is generated, fostered, and cherished, by this train of meditation we have been describing. It cannot be otherwise. And if we would
And if we would repress it ; if we would correct ourselves in this respect; if we would bring ourselves into a capacity of complying with our Saviour's rule, we must alter our turn of thinking ; we must reflect more upon our sins, and less upon our virtues. Depend upon it, that we shall view our characters more truly, we shall view them much more safely, when we view them in their defects, and faults, and infirmities, than when we view them only, or principally, on the side of their good qualities ; even when these good qualities are real. I suppose, and I have all along supposed, that the good parts of our characters, which, as I contend, too much attract our attention, are, nevertheless real ; and I suppose this, because our Saviour's parable supposes the same.
Another great Christian rule is, “ Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philip. ii. 12.) These significant words, “ fear and trembling," do not accord with the state of a mind which is all contentment, satisfaction, and self-complacency; and which is brought into that state by the habit of viewing and regarding those good qualities, which a person believes to belong to himself, or those good actions which he remembers to have performed. The precept much better accords with a mind anxious, fearful, and appre
hensive; and made so by a sense of sin. But a sense of sin exists not, as it ought to do, in that breast which is in the habit of meditating chiefly upon its virtues. I can very well believe, that two persons of the same character in truth, may, nevertheless, view themselves in
very different lights, according as one is accustomed to look chiefly at his good qualities, the other chiefly at his transgressions and imperfections; and I say,
that this latter is the disposition for working out salvation agreeably to Saint Paul's rule and method; that is, “ with fear and trembling :" the other is not.
But further; there is, upon this subject, a great deal to be learnt from the examples which the New Testament sets before us. Precepts are short, necessarily must be so; take up but little room; and, for that reason, do not always strike with the force, or leave the impression, which they ought to do: but examples of character, when the question is concerning character, and what is the proper character, have more weight and body in the consideration, and take up more room in our minds than precepts. Now, from one end of the New Testament to the other, you will find the evangelical character to be contrition. You hear little of virtue or righteousness; but you hear perpetually of the forgiveness of sins. With the first Christian teachers, “ repent, repent,” was the burden of their exhortations; the almost constant sound of their voice. Does not this strain of preaching show, that the preachers wished all who heard them to think much more of offences than of merits? Nay, further, with respect to themselves, whenever this contemplation of righteousness came in their way, it came in their way only to be renounced, as natural, perhaps, and also grateful to human feelings, but as inconsistent and irreconcilable